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André Van Heerden - A Profile

by Dale Pierce

August 2005

For André Van Heerden-films
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André Van Heerden is my antithesis, a good bookend to my evil nature and I swear if I did not know about my father's virtue and can pretty much attest to his father as well (a South African swimming champion and a self-styled evangelist with a love for trying to debunk evolution, who married a Canadian woman) I would swear we were somehow the product of the same bloodline. You know, like the good and bad brother in the western movie, The Tramplers, the Roman lore on Romulus and Remus or whatever the hell you call them, or in the case of Cain and Abel in the Bible. I write books, usually making Christians as the villains or killing them in unpleasant ways while he makes movies, with Christians as the good guys and of course people I would cheer for while watching, as the bad. Seperate forms of art but forms nonetheless. He is an avid Christian. I am an agnostic. He pretty much loves people, where I deplore them. Yet from the time we were introduced to each other via the wonders of email, he has become one of my favorite interview topics and one of my favorites to write about.

His bornagain followers who recognize my name will probably say "Praise Jesus Christ" because I am writing about him again. Those followers of mine who are horror buffs in the more traditional sense of the word, are probably saying "Oh Jesus Christ, not again," instead. Oh well. So be it.

As noted beforehand, André is the product of a Canadian mother and a South African father, but was raised in Canada where he played soccer in college, studied literature and developed a side interest in film. From there, he walked into what is generally an impossible world to penetrate, either through luck, divine guidance or just good timing.

Originally, he entered film-making, creating religious documentaries,such as Startling Proofs, a project debating evolution and creationism. He then became involved with a Christian television show of a similar nature, headed by Peter & Paul Lalonde (sort of a Jay & Silent Bob of Christian films, the one forever talking, the other barely saying a word in front of the camera). When the said Lalondes decided to upgrade from a television show to feature films, he happened to be right there. The right place, at the right time.

Yet one cannot say he was lucky, without the talent to back it up, for an inexperienced director, thrown into the mainstream so fast would have crashed and burned had he no abilty. Instead,  he made all the right moves, repeatedly gained the respect from an experienced cast and his films caught the eye of both born-againer and non-believer alike.

Foremost, Van Heerden has been involved with the Left Behind series (see the Gordon Currie article, so I do not rehash everything), but not as a director. Instead, he has worked in production, editing, advice and God knows what else (to make a pun) as these films saw the light. In the DVD versions he is usually heard offering behind the scenes extra footage or commentary.

It was in his own series of films featuring Christians versus The Antichrist that he really proved his worth, in what has been dubbed "The Tribulation series" and has yet to be concluded, though various scripts have been tossed about. In this series, established actor Nick Mancuso steals the show as Franco Macalousso, the most hammy son of the devil to ever make it to the screen. Unlike Gordon Currie's subtle portrayal of Nicolai in the Left Behind-series, Mancuso's villain is part Napoleon and part Krusty the Clown. One minute he is frightening beyond words, the next you find yourself laughing at something stupid he says or like the illfated Coyote, always outsmarted by the Roadrunner in the old cartoons, has to contend with his best-planned evil intentions backfiring on him.

The damned Christians just won't let him win one, no matter how he tries.

Van Heerden emerged directing Vanished, done more for documentary purposes than for film entertainment. In this, Macalousso (played by a seperate actor, as Mancuso had not yet come on the scene with Cloud Ten) has only a limited role. Rather than entertaining, the movie was intended to be a forewarning for those well ... left behind (remember the Christians think there will be a big vanishing act before the devil takes control of the world, read the Bible). Yet this film set the stage for the new director's rise and with it, the subsequent cinema rise of his key villain, as well as a counterpart, a blond news reporter played by Leigh Lewis, to twart him.

In the sequels, the general theme of Christian versus Devil was given free reign, without evangelists such as John Hagee popping up to explain what was going on, as was the case in Vanished. Macalousso is now in control of the world, only a small army of post-rapture converts remain to challenge him and  the kid gloves are off. These, like the Left Behind series, walk a thin line between "faith based" movies and horror films. There is somehting for believer and non-believer alike.

Macalousso is a "tempter" who knows everyone's weakness and works on it. He whispers in their ear and gets them at their soft spots. One can picture him holding an apple to Eve and saying "Eat this, you stupid broad. Come on, you'll like it"  (then force feeding it to her if she refuses). This technique was the creation of the actor and Van Heerden, who studied numerous drawings and old paintings of the devil, where he is seen whispering temptations into the ears of those about the do evil, egging them on. From these old frescos, paintings and statues came a great number of the now celebrated Macalousso mannerisms.

Tribulation may be argumentably the best of this series, starring Gary Busey and Margot Kidder, plus of course Mancuso and his nemesis, Leigh Lewis. Throw in Howie Mandel, the comedian, in a rare serious role and you have an interesting cast. In this, Macalousso is using this mandatory headgear to force psychic links with him and forcing people to take a mark of identification to prove their loyalty to him. He promises the world, then puts his foot in his mouth at the end. How is best watched firsthand.

Never fear though, this leering jack-o-lantern of an archvillain is back again in Judgment, as is his nemesis, Lewis. This time "God" is put on trial. Well, there's something you don't see every day. And while Jesus does not burst into the courtroom with Perry Mason at his side, the plot twists abound where He doesn't have to. The door remains open for yet another sequal.

Van Heerden took a break from this series after Judgment to work on Deceived,  totally unrelated to the host of Antichrist films, but with a strong born-againer versus non-bornagainer element. Add a different cast of characters, a great Ennio Morricone type score and super camera angles for this project, which showed even greater improvement over his past works. In this film, a group of people are investigating strange signals believed to be coming from God knows where, only to reveal God has nothign to do with this. The signals may well come from hell and drive the listeners over the edge. Each of them are tempted by and usually yield to their own sin of choice, be it pride, anger, gluttony, lust or whatever. For a "Christian" film it pushes the envelope a bit too. In some cases libraries and video stores have it in sci-fi rather than the religion section.

Yet in spite of a sometimes superhuman schedule, Van Heerden always finds time to address questions by fans, talk about his products or as in my case engage in a running battle of religion versus doubt. (I'm an agnostic and we have had a running exchange of emails for nearly three years now.) Between arguing about Jesus and why he should or should not be believed in, it seems like he scarcely would have time to make movies. I am probably not the only one he does this with.

"I'm gonna save him" I told my wife once. "I'm gonna turn him into a normal person and get him to make outright horror films, which is what he ought to be doing to begin with,"
I told my wife once, after reading one of his emails where he got the better of me ... "If he did that, he wouldn't fascinate you as much," my wife responded in her droll, Wilma Flinstone way of saying things. "Plus his movies wouldn't have that ultimate good versus ultimate bad anymore, because he'd want the bad guys to win like you do."

She had a point.

Having just finished behind-the-scenes work on the third section of Left Behind in late August, as noted in the Gordon Currie-piece, he decided to take a vacation and go on a camping trip for two weeks. He is married with two children. A well needed break, by the sound of it.

When he gets back I do hope he does not use his free time to argue the Bible with me, but rather look into another film, as many of us cannot wait.

Franco Macalousso waits to be taken out of the closet and re-enter the Tribulation series.

Take a hint, André. I know you are reading this.



© by Dale Pierce

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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD



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